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Good evening everyone,

 

I am applying for a masters degree in Entrepreneurial Cinema and need to do a documentary film treatment based on a concept of mine.

 

Ive done narrative film treatments before but never for a documentary. I was wondering if anyone had tips, suggestions or maybe even samples I could base on.

 

Any help would be tremendously appreciated!

 

Jesse Varas

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In my experience of doing documentary-like projects is you at first have an idea of what you want to express, gather footage/recordings of what you hope lines up with that, and then craft your narrations/narrative based on what you gathered.

 

You'll find the story being assembled in post as opposed to in your mind.

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Ya know what's funny, of all the documentaries both feature and short that I've made over the years, I've never written a pre-shoot script of any kind. Generally the way low-no budget doc's go is that we draw up a treatment that discusses what we want to explore in our production, but that's usually about it during the pre-production phase. Since only the highest profile documentary filmmakers and movies get financing of any kind, the "investor" side isn't as necessary. Sure if you're going to crowdfund, it's good to have a little teaser and some documentation, but you'll never truly have a script until you're starting post production.

 

So the way it works is that you first build the treatment, then you go out and start to collect footage. Usually starting with interviews and then B-roll to backup the interviews is important. We transcribe every frame of footage and very carefully start to edit scenes together, without a script, using the transcribed interviews to find keywords. These scenes will be long, they're just key moments as a stringout. As you do this process, you find the holes, which prompts you to go out and shoot what's missing. You will use the edit notes to pinpoint and "script" questions more accurately to fill gaps in your story. Once you feel you've got enough story material, then you actually start scripting based on the all of the edited scenes.

 

A doc script is 4 columns from left to right:

 

- What's being said; The actual text of the dialog for that given moment

- What's being seen; What is physically on screen

- What's being heard; This would be VO, OS (on screen) Music, Effects, etc.

- Where is the content both image and audio; this is what the editor uses to find those moments. This would be clip name and timecode in/ou in most cases.

 

The doc script is based on visuals, so any time there is a visual change, you will add a new line with the new visual. So for instance, there is a VO, but maybe there are 10 different pictures that go along with it. You will break up the VO line by line to match exactly what and where the imagery is for that moment. A lot of time the "audio" column will be "appended" from above, but still needs to be there especially in doc with voice under stills or images that may have associated sound effects.

 

Remember a few key things about documentary filmmaking.

 

- Ya never know what you're going to get footage/interview wise, until you've done those things.

- The story always changes, even after the movie shot. There are always 2 dozen ways to tell the story and get a different outcome.

- You can never have enough b-roll.

- Always take notes as your interviewing

- Always come prepared with questions before your interview that are unexpected and prompt emotion from your interviewee.

- Never accept "no" as an answer. Even if it takes you years to get the interview, if it will make or break your film, take your time.

- There is no money in documentary filmmaking, so don't even think about it becoming a money maker.

- HIRE AN EDITOR who has made doc's and can help you through the scripting process before you go out and shoot more.

 

Those are just my notes and what I've learned over the years.

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